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By Rebecca Pitman on January 25, 2019
When is it too late in January to say Happy New Year? A month on from Christmas? Well, anyway, it’s a new year and only a mere two months or so to go until the ospreys return to Rutland Water; it’s hard to believe the rapid passage of time.
The osprey aficionados among you will recall that last year the ospreys returned exceptionally early, on 12th March. With our seasonal visitor centre at Lyndon nature reserve having only opened for the new season two days before the Manton Bay female returned, we were barely ready to receive company. The mate of ‘Maya’, the male ’33’ returned just a few days after her, leading to the earliest breeding and subsequent hatching of osprey eggs the Rutland Osprey Project had seen since 2014. Who can forget the extraordinary year of weather in 2018? Beginning with the ‘Beast from the East’, a brief glimpse of spring, followed by a long, hot summer of scorching temperatures.
Who knows what this year will bring? When will the ospreys return? How many pairs will successfully breed? How many chicks will fledge? How many young birds will return for the first time and who will they be? So very many questions. It would be disingenuous of me not to admit to a slight feeling of dread wondering which of the birds may not return from migration this year, but we will just have to wait patiently and see. One statement we can make with some certainty is that in 2019 the 150th chick for the Rutland Osprey Project will hatch. Quite a milestone to have reached, I’m sure you will agree.
Perhaps many will wonder what on earth the osprey team get up to over the winter. Well we are certainly not idly twiddling our thumbs for six months, watching the skies awaiting the ospreys’ return. A great deal of planning goes into preparing for the next osprey season – from maintaining the artificial nest platforms and perches; to liaising with landowners; maintaining the camera traps we use to help monitor nests; updating the website; planning osprey cruises and events; keeping the media’s interest in ospreys piqued during their absence; recruiting for new seasonal staff to join the osprey team for the upcoming season, carrying out habitat management at Lyndon reserve via volunteer work parties – and the list goes on.
Our fantastic education team put in a great deal of time over the winter (despite being seasonal staff and therefore ‘stood down’ during autumn/winter), planning visits to schools to deliver assemblies and to bring school groups out to Lyndon reserve in the spring/summer to deliver outreach sessions via our dedicated osprey watching hide. They are also busy preparing for two new exciting education projects in 2019 (as mentioned in the previous blog post). There is a lot going on and we are very much looking forward to getting our teeth into the new osprey season.
Your guess is as good as mine as to the date the first Rutland osprey will return.
We wait with baited breath.
Posted in Rutland Osprey Blog
By Rebecca Pitman on December 16, 2018
I’m not one for watching the Queen’s Speech on 3pm Christmas Day personally, but I am an advocate for an end of year message and for letting people know how much they are valued. With this sentiment in mind, I would like to wish all the supporters of the Rutland Osprey Project a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Without your support, the project would not be where it is today.
A special thank you must go to our many volunteers. If it wasn’t for them, the project would only achieve a fraction of what it does. These exceptional, dedicated individuals support the osprey project in a plethora of ways – more than perhaps the public realise. From manning the reception desk at Lyndon visitor centre; carrying out monitoring shifts at the osprey hide; waxing lyrical about ospreys to members of the public; helping out with visiting school groups; attending winter volunteer work parties – their contributions make an important and significant difference to the osprey project and Rutland Water nature reserve.
There is much to look forward to in 2019 – especially regarding some exciting new osprey education projects.
‘Reserve Expert’ summer school
A brand new project for our osprey education programme launches in 2019, thanks to sponsorship from The Cameron Bespolka Trust.
The Cameron Bespolka Trust was founded after the tragic death of a bright 16 year old young man called Cameron, who was a keen bird watcher and naturalist. Cameron sometimes struggled to find activities to engage with wildlife and nature for young people his age. The Bespolka Trust was subsequently set up by Cameron’s family to address this gap, organising and sponsoring outdoor activities, residential courses and summer camps for like-minded youngsters.
Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust is thrilled that the Rutland Osprey Project is sponsored by The Bespolka Trust in 2019, to run a summer school for 8-16 year olds to learn more about birds and other wildlife, based at Lyndon nature reserve at Rutland Water.
Activity sessions will include bird ringing, an osprey study, bird identification using sight and sound, a feather and an owl pellet study, and more. Youngsters will also get the chance to visit the hide to see the Rutland ospreys and find out more about tracking and monitoring these birds. Participants will be given a log book to note down the day’s activities and awarded a certificate showing they are a “Reserve Expert”.
When is it? I hear you ask. There is a choice of two dates for 8-12 year olds and two dates for 12-16 year olds:-
8-12 years: Tuesday 30th July or Wednesday 7th August
12-16 years: Wednesday 31st July or Thursday 8th August
For more information see here: Reserve Expert Days Information
We ask for interested young people to fill out a simple application form, as an expression of interest. Apply here: Reserve Expert – How to apply.
The application deadline is 1st April 2019. We will inform applications whether they have secured a place by 28th April 2019.
Tesco ‘Bags of Help scheme’
When you hear the phrase “deprived communities, does your mind visualise the urban sprawl? Tower blocks with ‘socio-economic’ challenges? Well, perhaps you may be surprised to hear that despite being one of the wealthiest areas in the UK, rural Rutland has some deprived areas too.
While you park that thought for a moment, consider how much of a challenge schools have in the age of funding cuts to cover transport costs for trips away from school. Transport costs are a huge constraint to rural schools and can be the difference between a field trip to a museum, park, or a local nature reserve, or staying on school premises.
Thanks to shoppers at the local Tesco store in Oakham, the Rutland osprey education programme came second place recently in the blue token scheme and was awarded £2K, following a funding bid to address these very issues. The funding allows us to visit schools to deliver an assembly and an activity session, as well as bring children to our Lyndon nature reserve – completely free of charge to the school. While at the reserve, the youngsters will visit the osprey hide and receive an outreach session from our fantastic education officers. They will even receive their very own copy of the ‘Reserve Expert’ activity book for them to fill out and take home.
The team are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with six local Rutland schools – who have previously had little or no contact with the osprey project or Rutland Water. The schools are now signed up and we look forward to reporting more on this project in the spring.
I’m sure you’ll agree, there is a lot happening in 2019! Here’s to a prosperous new year and an exciting new osprey season. It will be here before we know it!
Posted in Rutland Osprey Blog
By Rebecca Pitman on November 7, 2018
It’s hard to avoid nowadays. Mentioned everywhere we turn, constantly discussed on all media platforms. We’ve been talking about it for over two years and there are still six months to go (at least) until anything happens. I’m talking, of course, about Brexit.
Has anyone else noticed how Brexit is often the go-to answer for difficult to answer questions? In my house, we see how much we can get away with using Brexit as the excuse for everyday tasks going awry: forgetting to buy milk, heavy traffic, a meal not turning out well, sleeping in and being late for work…and so it goes on.
In case any readers are feeling a bit twitchy at this point and considering navigating to another website – rest assured, I’m not about to get up on my soapbox on the subject. I mention the matter simply because the following question was put to me recently: how will the Rutland Osprey Project be affected by Brexit?
There is no easy answer to this and I defy anyone to state this is not a bit of a head scratcher. First and foremost, it is impossible to say with any confidence how anything will be affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.
The future of all UK conservation law is uncertain. European legislation is currently being re-written for a plethora of species and habitats which have previously been protected for decades by the EU Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive. It is unknown as yet whether this legislation will be watered down with the EU Withdrawal Bill, or removed completely.
With the UK withdrawing from the EU Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy and introducing a new Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill in its place, as well as a new Environment Bill building on the the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan, there is much opportunity to change the state of environmental protection in the UK for wildlife and habitats, as well as the quality of our air, water and soil. How could ospreys be affected by all this, when they already benefit from Schedule 1 protection? Your guess is as good as mine at this stage – perhaps a countryside better managed for wildlife may potentially affect the breeding territories of some ospreys in the UK.
All conservation NGOs will be and are already being affected by the new fundraising landscape. Organisations which previously sought funding from the EU to support their environmental and conservation projects (e.g. EU LIFE funding) are rapidly seeking support closer to home, putting more pressure on UK-based funding providers.
The Rutland Osprey Project is fortunate enough to have strong working relationships with partners along the ospreys’ migration flyway and on their wintering grounds in Gambia and Senegal. Having been forged over some years now, these relationships are unlikely to change following Brexit, all being well.
Interesting times lay ahead – perhaps Brexit will conjure up a stumbling block for the osprey project, but we and other conservation projects will just have to continue to be resilient in the face of adversity. I almost envy the ospreys, blissfully unaware of borders and the chaotic political landscape in the country where they breed.
By way of some light relief, let us remind ourselves of where our satellite tagged ospreys are currently residing. No prizes for guessing there hasn’t been a great deal of movement from them on their wintering grounds – apart from the occasional day trip.
By Rebecca Pitman on October 4, 2018
Perhaps we should have had a sweepstake in the Wildlife Trust office as to which country ‘4K’ was going to choose as his wintering ground. I wouldn’t have won anyway – I would have put a wager on the satellite tagged osprey carrying on south to Sierra Leone, or maybe Côte d’Ivoire, considering how he seemed hell-bent on continuing south.
For those who have been checking the satellite tagging page, it will come as no surprise to learn his movements are now focused around an area half-way down the coast of Guinea (also known as French Guinea, but not to be confused with Equatorial Guinea), near the town of Boffa.
Picking up from when we last spoke, I’ve referred to my trusty travel guides once again to learn about another country in West Africa. The borders of Guinea have changed over time, with it once being part of Senegal. Ruled by France as a colony until 1958, defiant independence followed with links severed from its former colonial master, giving rise to one of the longest running oppressive regimes in Africa. After decades of political unrest and violence, together with more than one military coup, Guinea has seen its fair share of difficulties over the years. Despite the country being rich in minerals such as bauxite, most people live below the poverty line, with life expectancy being only 53 (men) and 56 (women).
Despite all these troubles, Guinea has a tangible vivacity amongst its 10.5 million population. The country is known for its cultural traditions, especially in music and dance, with these being a must-see for tourists. Its mix of cultures are apparent: not in every country can you trek through jungles and see chimpanzees and hippos in the south-east, buy French pâtisseries in the capital Conakry and visit an open air cinema in Mamou all in one trip.
Talking of food, a popular dish is ‘kulikuli’, peanut balls with onion and cayenne pepper, washed down with a cup of typical Guinean coffee, espresso-like and drunk with lots of sugar. That will leave you bouncing off the walls enough to bound your way through one of the many bustling markets in the capital, or enjoy a traditional dance performance.
The other tagged ospreys ’30’ and ‘S1’ are still holding court on their respective wintering grounds in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. We’ll be checking in on all the tagged ospreys from time to time of course, to monitor their movements and better understand their behaviour, particularly where they are fishing.
Perhaps we should have a sweepstake on when each of the ospreys return to Rutland next March instead.
Place your bets (please gamble responsibly).
By Rebecca Pitman on September 20, 2018
It’s a little embarrassing really. To my shame, I know barely anything about the part of the world where our three tagged ospreys have migrated, so I thought I would do some reading up.
Surrounded by desert, Senegal has a tropical climate with some great beaches – according to my Lonely Planet travel book. Apparently its trademarks include: the Wolof and Mandinka tribes; vibrant markets; striking mangrove swamps; its groundnut industry; lively fishing communities; great scuba diving opportunities and good beer. Its 10.5 million population has given rise to many musicians with internationally renowned reputations. Many crumbling old colonial buildings comprise some of the architecture, especially in St Louis on the west coast of Senegal (just up the coast from where our female ’30’ has wintered for the past six years).
French is the national language of course (even I knew that much), but if you want to greet someone a phrase to remember is ‘Asalaa-maalekum’ meaning ‘peace’ in Wolof. The national dish is ‘maffé saloum’- a beef dish cooked with peanuts, tomatoes, yams and carrots (not one for vegetarians with a nut allergy) and a popular drink to quench your thirst is ‘bissap’ juice – described as having lots of ‘zing’.
The smallest country within mainland Africa with a population of just 1.5 million, Gambia was first colonised by the Portugese and then the British. It’s an incredibly biodiverse country for such a small area, with 576 bird species. Sunshine and golden beaches contrast with ruins of slaving stations, reminding us of the painful history of this region of Africa.
Tourism and the fishing industry drive Gambia’s economy. Imagine what it must be like for an osprey holding a wintering territory on the beaches of Gambia, with its dense rows of brightly coloured fishing boats along the shoreline, competing with the local human population for food and navigating the potential hazards of snagging a fishing net when diving. None of our three tagged ospreys are currently residing in Gambia, but many ospreys which breed in the UK do of course.
Some fascinating facts about Gambia: the capital’s airport, Banjul International Airport, had its runway partly built by NASA as an emergency runway for space shuttles. Word of caution: never whistle after dark – its a taboo.
What is it like where ‘S1’ is spending his time? Well I was staggered when I googled images of the Arquipélago dos Bijagós (or Bissagos Islands), just off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. The beauty of those rainforest clad tropical little islands fringed by pristine beaches, surrounded by crystal clear water makes me want to book a flight right now and leave this dreary wet September day at Rutland far behind. No wonder wildlife watching on the Bissagos Islands is listed as an essential experience for tourists at this protected biosphere reserve. Incidentally, another inhabitant of these islands is a rare species of saltwater hippo – I wonder if S1 will see one?
As for mainland Guinea-Bissau, this is another very small country of 1.3 million, intersected by waterways. The official language is Portuguese and the architecture of many buildings reflects the colonial history. Guinea-Bissau is the sixth largest producer of cashew nuts – no coincidence then that the tipple of choice is a cashew rum (‘caña de cajeu’). While at the bar, why not try some ‘riz gras’- a rice with greasy sauce, or some grilled fish and salad? The locals are described as some of the most “unconditionally hospitable” people in West Africa, despite being one of the most poverty stricken in the whole of the continent – quite a humbling thought.
What about 4K?
Since we last spoke, this young male has moved even further south – now into Guinea. Answers on a postcard for where he will eventually end up (not a request to be taken literally, thank you readers). Sierra Leone? Côte d’Ivoire perhaps?
When viewing the satellite tracking webpage, did you know that if you click and drag the little street-view person (the small yellow figure in the bottom right-hand corner) over the map, it’s possible to view some of Google’s street-view images and photo archives? Where available, there are some fascinating panoramic views to be had all over these west African countries.
If the editor of Lonely Planet is hiring, just let me know.